Faith & Politics

The Demand for Constant Vigilance

In the documentary series The Roosevelts, one line captures the complex and unflinching optimism of Franklin D. Roosevelt. It’s a line that describes my own faith and political outlook:

“[Franklin Roosevelt] was armored with Christian Faith that the Universe is Well-Organized, and with the American Faith that History is a Rising Road.”

The series demonstrates the complexities of human existence and leadership and love. They were simultaneously great and terrible individuals. Eleanor, writing about Franklin’s transgressions, sums up the eternal human condition of brokenness and the need for forgiveness:

“All human beings have failings. All human beings have needs and temptations and stresses. Men and women who live together through long years get to know one another’s failings but they also come to know what is worthy of respect and admiration in those they live with and in themselves.
“If at the end, one can say ‘this man used to the limit the powers that God granted him, he was worthy of love and respect and of the sacrifice many people made in order that he might achieve what he deemed to be his task,’ then that life has been lived well and there are no regrets.”

It’s a nuance and grace lost in today’s Church and Politics. We demand our differences be self-evident and arm ourselves with heavy-handed rebuttals. We’d prefer that others begin conversations with their own defense.

Our sight is short — we cannot look back because yesterday’s lessons were perpetrated by people who fail to stand tall against the measuring stick of sainthood. Their failings disqualify their work from celebration or instruction. We must either repudiate or ignore.

It’s the same shallowness that keeps us from admitting we are the beneficiaries of tragedy and injustice. ‘It wasn’t us,’ we desperately cry, insisting past mistakes are passed, although we can’t help but be defined and define others by them now. It’s easier to blame another era than to stand with our neighbors today.

We are self-made Americans and saved Christians and that’s it. We lose the beauty and complexity of who we are in the bland, comfortable and treacherous existence of what we deem ‘right and wrong’ in the here and now.

Like the lineage of King David, the begets of freedom start with flawed individuals — not gods, but people with context that is discarded by the Pharisees of today. The heroes of yesterday were once people, who in their time were like us — jealous, selfish, fearful, and fallible. But together, by walking in each other’s footsteps, we have marched toward today’s realization.

Context is key. It’s what facilitates the fusion movement needed to cast off the chains of now — chains of race and class and gender and religion.

The Bible is not the end of Faith, it is the beginning. We must live it and create new works. The Constitution is not the end of Self-Government, but the beginning. The spirit is eternal even if the words are dated. We must stretch ourselves with the prophetic imagination of something new. We must rework our reality and reinterpret yesterday’s lessons to continue the advancement of human justice.

There are no easy answers. No solution can fit in 140 characters and no wisdom can be dispensed from fortune cookie Bible verses. It takes hard conversations and vulnerability. It’s work that begins with individuals, not voting blocks or single-denomination revivals. Yet we are content to swim in friendly torrents, drowning in our complacency. We laugh at the foolishness of others even though we’re really laughing at the idiot in the mirror.

I love politics because I love people — the same reason I’m a person of faith. Both have the power to reveal the evils of selfish malarkey and the redemption possible in us all. This place — this nation, this planet, this universe — is beautiful and extraordinary and rich. Ignoring that complexity dishonors the Creator and the unfulfilled American promise.

My faith and politics are entwined and cannot be separated. My faith drives my politics, but my politics are not driven by my faith. For each to be renewed, they must be challenged and tested and broken down — for ‘freedom is a constant struggle’ and the pursuit of it is our task eternal.